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Case recording can be seen as secondary to the necessary task of forming strong, relationships with families, and undertaking direct work with children. However, good quality case recording can positively enhance these relationships: aiding professional analysis and reflection, supporting high quality planning, and promoting transparency.
“Case recording evidences the child’s wishes and feelings and the views of their parents and carers.”
Case recording documents the day to day life of the child. It tells their individual story, including the strengths within their family, the areas where support is required, and states any concerns raised. It ensures accountability. Case recording evidences the child’s wishes and feelings and the views of their parents and carers. It is essential for hypothesising, analysing and planning, forming the basis for the child’s chronology, assessments and any formal reports written. Case recording assists in making sense of the available information, ultimately impacting on decision making, asking what is going on within this family? Have we got the right plan for the child?
Ultimately, the child may wish to access their information in the future. What would they read? Would it tell an accurate, clear and coherent story? Case records can help the child piece together their life experiences much later on, helping to aid understanding, heal and empower.
“Being reflective and thoughtful will ensure you are respectful and sensitive.”
Maintaining comprehensive day to day records sounds simple and obvious. However, there is expertise in writing for a variety of readers simultaneously, namely the child, their wider family, colleagues, professionals in partner agencies, managers, auditors, and sometimes Court. Case recording is therefore multi-functional and a social work skill in its own right. Being reflective and thoughtful will ensure you are respectful and sensitive when writing about the child and their family, and this will also pave the way for constructive working relationships.
“The child should always be at the centre of your case recording.”
As a crucial start, make sure the very basics are present. Names, addresses, significant dates and key professionals’ details need to be accurately recorded, spelt correctly, and be up to date. Check these important details on a regular basis with the family, as they can change over time. In the absence of the social worker, a colleague or team manager, can obtain information quickly and work with the family as required, giving them confidence in the social work team.
The child should always be at the centre of your case recording. Record the child’s wishes and feelings explicitly, and say how these views were obtained. Record the child’s own words or upload their pictures, photographs or written documents where possible. Ensure observations for younger children, or those children without verbal communication. Ask yourself would someone reading the child’s file get a sense of their personality, opinions, likes and dislikes? Would the child recognise themselves in your recordings?
Consider the use of social work terminology, jargon and acronyms. Such language may not be easily understood by the child or their family. This can impact on the power differential between social workers and families. Some services or ways of working may be locally based, and language can become lost in translation. Would another Local Authority understand the case file if the child moves to their area? Language can of course, change over time. A child accessing their case records in 10 to 20 years, may not fully understand key events in their life or why decisions have been made, as language evolves.
“Case records can lose their validity if written days later.”
Information should be recorded as close to the event as possible. Case records can lose their validity if written days later. Hand written notes will provide a prompt, but memory will fade if there has been a delay in recording, especially given the busy nature of the job. If a child makes a report of abuse or neglect, write it down as soon as you realistically can and ensure this is written in the child’s own words. This is their information. Always remember that contemporaneous, hand written notes can be requested by your organisation or even Court, so keep these safe.
Always highlight strengths within the family to ensure fairness and balance. Building on strengths is integral to decision making and future planning, and also helps build a strong relationship with the child and family. What is going well for this family? What do the family feel their strengths are?
“Check the accuracy of your day to day recordings throughout the work.”
Share your case recordings with children and families on a regular basis. Sharing information should not only happen when a formal assessment or report for a meeting is completed. This can feel tokenistic. Check the accuracy of your day to day recordings throughout the work. Have you interpreted the information accurately? What does the child or family member think about this specific recording? They may not always agree with your viewpoint, but this method will ensure open conversations are had, disagreements are logged, and there are no surprises. You will empower families and makes them feel truly valued.
Finally, social workers are privy to very personal and sensitive information. It is helpful to ask yourself the following question in all aspects of case recording: How would I feel if this information had been written about me or my family? Forming relationships with children and families can ultimately be enhanced by good quality, reflective case recording and open conversations.
This piece was by Rebecca O’Keefe, who is a registered Social Worker, Child Protection Chair and Practice Educator (stage 2).
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